Should we always give people the benefit of the doubt?
The high school version of me would say, “Yes, absolutely.” I had always believed that we should give people a fair chance to show their true colours. And that it’s wise to draw our own conclusions about people, especially since so many are so often victims of ruthless gossip (any teenage girl can attest to this statement!). While it’s true that people can surprise you, I’ve learned that the people you can trust don’t need the benefit of the doubt. Especially while traveling.
I spent 48 hours in Chennai with my cousin Nicki, and we learned the hard way that when it comes to people you meet in various sites, you need to be selective with people you engage with. You have every right to refuse any services offered to you.
Anyone who visits Chennai and doesn’t see the Kapalashweerar Temple is missing out. It’s made in Dravidian architecture style and includes 10,000 statues!
During our visit, we met a man who had offered us a tour. Normally, I would refuse a tour from anyone since I know they’re mostly led by people who aren’t official guides, but this man informed us that he was a student volunteer. Being students ourselves, we were like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ sureee! Red Flag no. 1. 🚩
He showed us around the vicinity, beginning with the featured deities, then moving on to the prayer rooms where only Hindus are allowed, and then the gathering hall and stage. He took photos of us which was nice since he knew where all the good angles were, but whenever we tried to take selfies, he would impose and included himself in them. Red Flag no. 2.🚩
We didn’t know that the temple would be closed between 1pm and 4pm (we arrived at 1pm in hopes of seeing the rituals), but he must have told the security guards that we were his ~*foreigner friends*~ and he wanted to show us around.
Red Flag no. 3🚩 was him asking us for a donation for the upkeep of the temple (bullshit, lol). We told him if there was really a donation required, we would just leave it in a donation box, which he obviously wasn’t too happy about.
To conclude our tour, he ushered us into a remote corner of the temple where the Punnai Maram (Sacred Tree) grew. (The final red flag!🚩) It was then that he asked us for 500 rupees to pay for the tour. We insisted on giving him cash in front of where we were visible to others but he was being annoying so I just paid him. We told him we didn’t know about the tour fee and this asshole was like “But you didn’t ask!” Excuse me while my eyes roll back to the Jurassic Period.
After we paid him, we intended on asking the guards if we were supposed to pay for any tours. In even simpler English, we wanted to rat him out. As soon as we approached the guards however, our sly fox of a tour guide immediately ran over and showed us the door. It was useless anyway, since security didn’t understand neither English nor my try-hard Hindi, only Tamil. He looked a little spooked, which made me feel a little better. I’m sure his karma while bite him in the butt one day, although I will never get to see that. Bummer.
(Aside: If you’re interested in learning new languages, you might wanna read this: Language Learning Apps I Use Daily!)
The way I see it, 500 rupees is a very small price to pay for our stupidity. It really isn’t about the money, it’s about the principle. I hate the feeling of being taken advantage of. And although the temple was stunning, Nicki and I found it hard to appreciate its beauty after the whole experience. It definitely tainted our visit! Honestly, I think if we straight up refused to give him the cash, he couldn’t have done anything about it, haha.
TLDR; Go with your gut instincts, people!!!
(Fun fact: It’s often said that our “gut” (stomach region) is our second brain! Google it.)
Nicki’s Tips for NOT Getting Ripped Off!
I’m stubborn af and I really don’t listen to a lot of people, but my cousin is damn smart so I take her advice on a ton of stuff. We used these tips a few times over the course of our travels in South India. A part of me wishes my cousin had arrived earlier since I didn’t know any of these in the nine months I stayed in India. Needless to say, I think my wallet would be a little happier, too.
1. Whenever someone asks where you’re from, don’t say “Canada” or “the Netherlands” or another developed country. We say we’re from the Philippines. I mean, I really am from the Philippines but I grew up in Canada so to I will always feel more connected to Canada. (For the record, I love the motherland but it goes without saying that faux tour guides will assume we have less money than we really do!) Bonus: If you’re a person of colour, you can also avoid the “But where are you reaaalllyyyy from?” question. 😉
2. Even if you’re working in a foreign country (like me), don’t disclose that. Say you’re a broke ass college student eating ramen for dinner on the daily and that you’re struggling through 8am lectures at the University of [Insert city of destination country here].
3. Sometimes people will ask you how you got to the temple or wherever you’re at. For the love of Ganesh, don’t respond with “Uber” or “cab”. Tell them you walked or you took a rickshaw. Basically just try to make yourself sound as poor as you possibly can, and hopefully you can save yourself a few hundred rupees and a tainted temple experience.
Hope this helps! You can also follow Nicki on Instagram to see more photos from our travels. Her feed is pretty poppin’ tbh.